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Pioneering story revolution in video fascinating audiences

In a bar in central London they gathered, excited, before that button was pushed. Word had finally got to them. Ten million would be a massive success.

As the key was pressed and ones and zeros zinged down the network, the visible figures would have rolodexed like a Las Vegas cash register.

10m in the first hour. 25m by the end of the day. By six weeks in, 320m views. Cue, Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture Finale and Champas breaking out, metaphorically.

Not bad for a two friends Dan Dawson and Neil Morris,whom 12 years earlier joined forces to create thirty second commercial spots, whose earlier video campaigns were a brand foot cream. “I mean if they’re going to foot the bill?”, I weigh in!

Today, these friends rule a genre of video production in which Kansas is set to go bye bye. Digital out of home has taken off over the 12 years, says Dawson, whom we meet in his offices in Central London, adding:

The first real big digital out of home screens as we know them now was the transvision ones...those are in mainline stations . They were put in 15 years ago, but media owners weren’t really backing digital out of home then. It was only when they started to transform their existing print sites … you’ve seen the perimeter boards at football stadium that used to be big print sites and are now digital screens, then people really stated to take the medium seriously.

Today digital out of home Dawson says is a £1bn industry and media owners sense a boom ahead, says Dawson.


The Story of Film, by award winning filmmaker Mark Cousins tells the story of illusionist Georges Méliès in the 1890s. Whilst filming in Paris Méliès’ camera jammed. When he reviewed the footage later he noticed cars magically appearing and disappearing. This low-tech special effect would find its way into his film The Moon at One Metre/ La lune à un mètre ( France 1896). Audiences asked, “How did he do that?”

Grand Visual have built up a reputation devising ingenious, often simple methods crafting their stories, drawing the proverbial gesture “How did you do that?” Unsurprisingly, I’ve succumbed to the same question.

The aforementioned campaign which drew 320m was crafted for one of their major clients. In it customers at a shopping mall find their images cast as shadows of Disney characters. There’s a Mexican wave and dance off where Mickey Mouse’s MJ moves clean the floor thinking back on Guardian of the Galaxy’s Star Lord.

So how did they do that? You’ll have to ask Grand Visual.

Grand Visual

Top, Dan Dawson, co-founder of Grand Visual hosts MA students from the University of Westminster

When media pundits talk of video, usually television, the web, and VR-360 receive considerable talk-time, compared to the lesser known Digital Out of Home (DOOH), and programmatic video. You’d be hard pressed to find comparative number of courses that focus on DOOH and programmatic.

Grand Visual are one of the pioneers in this genre that is clearly fascinating audiences. With a team of 25, their spectrum of work has netted several awards, including the oscars for advertising — the Cannes’ Lion.

Dawson sees the company as a specialist breed of producers — creative technologists and creative producers — making digital out of home (DOOH) and related services in programmatic video their own.

Their billings in the last few years has grown. However within the DOOH’s £1bn market, he says, only 5% is tactical (data-driven video) and only 5% dynamic video content which signals a huge growth in the sector and for story tellers.

I think the role Out of Home has to play in a wider marketing mix is going to be massively important, Dawson says.

So if I have a story to tell. Lets take Waterloo station as a really good example. I have just played this google message for YouTube, for a particular YouTube channel they want to get more people watching online…

An example of how this works is provided by Dawson in a breakdown of a campaign.

We play this ad at waterloo station this morning. So from a mobile perspective there are agencies out there who understand how many people are at Waterloo station this morning and they have their device iDs. When they open up their browser and go somewhere we can tell, they can tell. Media agencies can tell where they’ve been and they can retarget them with those ads. Now they will want to target them with those ads if we can tell them where they’ve been.

Simply put, programmatic video, which can be delineated into tactical are stories activated or conditioned by machine language and AI. The number of Oyster users at a station may trigger different videos to play across different platforms.

In one of their campaigns working with long time client Google, vehicles streaming down a motorway affect the timing of a message on a billboard according to their speed and flow. Meanwhile, a Google play list triggers different song choices depending on the day and weather conditions.

In tactical, data to trigger an effect with video can come from cameras linked to gesture APIs or data that is scrapped from open sources, such as the Met Office.

The company’s creative slate covers storytelling techniques in the scalable, tactical, engaging, and shareable — a recent addition to re-crafting stories online. They work in 60 markets in different countries, sometimes across 250 different formats, with a roster which includes ten Warner bros films a year in all languages. Small wonder, Dawson sees them in a unique position stating they have have no competitors who can replicate their full portfolio across a wide spectrum of formats.

The disLabers

We’re here from the University of Westminster’s disLAB, acronym for digital and interactive story lab, exploring the interstice of storytelling across platforms. disLAB is billed as a different type of MA for storytellers building upon journalism, online, television and public displays.

Agile productions — the ability to create multiple ideas and then prototype with a view to creating innovative projects is the norm. Conventions are not taken as a given, instead, time, place, audience, creative style and tech undergo R&D.

In this, beyond the digital age, being discursively creative, technological disruptive and kinaesthetic are KPIs. Visiting Grand Visual builds up knowledge from symptomatic readings of professionals’ work, and what’s happening in the industry. Our day of visit coincides with a security protocol for a client’s work. Next week Grand Visual launch an AR event where the public can sit next to their favourite stars on Sky.

Afortnight ago BBC News Lab kindly allowed us to sit in on their editorial meeting. At Grand Visual the LABers, from their own research posed several questions, such as what they do with their data, and if some stories can’t be told. Dawson replies, they don’t withhold data and there’s no story that can’t be told.

And with our time up, 12.10 we decamped to a cafe for a debriefing… Our deepest thanks to @grandvisual and Dan Dawson @mymatedan for their hospitality. I’m aware I wasn’t able to condense everything that was said into this piece, so look forward to teasing out those elements in the future.

Photo by Bowen

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is named as one of the top writers in journalism on Medium. He’s a an international award winning innovator and a leader in the field of Cinema Journalism



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Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.